The city of Dickinson is looking at its emergency snow route plans ahead of this year's winter season.

Dickinson Public Works sought direction from city administrators at a work session Tuesday on the department's winter operations plan, to help determine where resources are utilized, and if the city needs to contract additional resources.

Gary Zuroff, Public Works director, said better coordination was needed between city agencies in determining who puts out emergency notices.

"Sometimes school's closed and we haven't done a no-travel advise," he said. "Sometimes it's the other way around. We do a no-travel advise and school's open. It contradicts our strategy for that storm."

Mayor Scott Decker suggested that such declarations can be determined between Zuroff and City Administrator Joe Gaa.

"We don't get calls because of the chain of command," he said. "We get calls because of how snow is stacked, where it's piled."

Zuroff also wants to improve how the department gets information out to the public.

A mobile app launched by the city last year to offer helpful notices (for example, putting out refuse for collection) could be put to greater use.

"It was still new last year, and we just didn't use it," Street Department Chief Darryl Wehner said. "We talked about it because I think they can draw out an area. If we're going to be plowing this area of town, they should be able to send out a blast to who is signed up in that area."

When plowing, the city prioritizes Level 1 and Level 2 routes.

Level 1 routes are federal and state aid roads that, by law, the city has to maintain.

"They have to be done first," Wehner said.

Level 2 routes are the roads used to reach Level 1 routes.

"You shouldn't have to travel more than a half mile to get to one of those, which will get you to a Level 1 road," Wehner said. "If you really have to get to Walmart to get a quart of milk, you should only have to go a half-mile through snow drifts."

The road condition has to be "good" per city guidelines, or nearly completely clear.

"In practicality, during a storm, we're not going to maintain that," Wehner said. "However, shortly after the snowfall, it can return to 'good' status fairly quickly with salt and brine treatments. We keep it plowed down as close as we can to the pavement, but the chemicals have to finish off turning it black."

Urgency is not determined by specific inches of snowfall, Wehner said, but by whether or not traffic is being impeded.

"There's so many variables as to if the snow's wet or dry, if the wind is blowing, if we're able to keep it drivable using chemicals," he said. "If the road is drivable and there's still 2 inches of snow falling on it, it's not a real big deal, but if we can't keep the wheel lanes bare and people are having problems driving, that can be an emergency."

Decker asked if some routes could be left "acceptable" to allow resources to be directed more quickly to busier arterial and residential roads.

"What happens is, you get 2 inches one day, 2 inches three days later, 2 inches again, now you have 6 inches, 4 of it is melted and you have a 4-inch ice sheet underneath," he said. "If we don't get to certain high traffic roads and they get packed down and you have chunks of ice, not only is that a detriment to the residents, but to our equipment."

A major problem during snow removal efforts is vehicles parked on sides of roads, including boats and trailers.

"If we take our tandem axle trucks on some of our Level 2 roads, it looks like we're drunk going down the road trying to swerve around everything parked on the side," Wehner said.

Parking on snow routes is prohibited during an emergency, but city staff loses time having the vehicles towed.

"If you get the parked vehicles off, you can get those major roads open a lot quicker because you're not slowing down to get around the vehicles," Wehner said.

Zuroff said city snow operations have improved over the last five years.

"I think we have good operators right now, and we're getting more experienced operators," he said. "The technology has improved, with our brine and cameras in our trucks."

He added, "The only thing we can't improve is Mother Nature, and how the storms are thrown at us."